This Friday, the six winners of YGK Emerging Musician Competition will demonstrate their musical skills in a showcase concert at The Isabel. Kingston-based musicians Sadaf Amini, Julia Finnegan, Michelle Kasaboski, Alex Mundy, Savannah and Michael, and Abby Stewart were announced in July as the finalists of the first edition of the competition, which was open to submissions from the public this spring. A jury of seven music industry professionals from Kingston went through 43 submissions to choose the six finalists. A feature spot in Friday night’s showcase is just one part of a prize pack worth over $7,500 that each finalist received. Other parts of the prize include a video produced on stage at The Isabel, a professional PR kit and photo package, and a one-year membership to Venture Club co-working space.
“We’re rolling out a business year for them,” said Claire Bouvier, creative director and co-founder of the competition. “They’ll get a business boot camp that Kingston EcDev is sponsoring, along with the PR kit, audio, video, and pictures. We really want to set them up to get on the road to success.”
Bouvier originally pitched the concept to Aaron Holmberg 10 minutes before another show Bouvier was attending at The Isabel
“Claire came to me originally with this quick little bubble of an idea that was to do this more of a female-focused competition,” said Holmberg, who is the recording director of the competition and technical director of The Isabel. “But as it developed we wanted to open it up to everybody, so the fact that six females kicked ass and won anyway, it’s like the best of both worlds — everybody got to apply, and we now we can really showcase how much incredible female talent there is.”
The show will feature 15-minute performances from each of the six finalists. The concert will wrap up the performance and production part of the competition, and business and behind-the-scenes part will follow.
“Most shows that have more than one act will have something from the same palette of music,” said Bouvier, “So to have a show this diverse is really exciting”
Michelle Kasaboski and Savannah and Michael come from the jazz world, Abby Stewart is a country singer-songwriter, while Julia Finnegan and Alex Mundy learn more towards the folk and pop genres. But Sadaf Amini, who grew up in Iran, is a classically-trained santurist.
“The santur is an Iranian instrument, kind of like a hammered dulcimer,” explained Amini. “It’s played by two wooden hammers, and there two rows of nine individual bridges that four strings pass over. All in all, it has 72 strings. My father learned santur and had one at home, and I was really drawn to it and started learning it on my own.”
Amini is excited for the exposure that this opportunity offers to her as a performer of classical Iranian music.
“It’s a good step to get a different audience for my music,” she said. “Normally when I perform, a big part of the audience is Iranian. Most of this audience will likely not have heard of the santur, so it’s really great to introduce my music and instrument to them. It’s a really great step forward.”
Kasaboski was ecstatic when she heard the news that she’d been selected as a finalist.
“I had a message that I needed to call Claire (Bouvier), so I did and got the news, and then I threw some clothes on and ran several blocks to (twin sister and manager) Paige’s house,” said Kasaboski. “We do everything together and I was just like ‘We did it! We got in!’ It was really exciting for the journey we have together in music.”
Like Amini, Kasaboski was raised around music.
“I started singing in a lot of choirs as a kid, especially in church choirs at St. Mary’s Cathedral and in the Cantible Choir,” she said. “I grew up in a really musical family, there was always music around. My dad was also an instrumentalist and singer, and my sisters and I were always singing and banging around on things around the house.”
In fact, it’s a common thread from all six finalists that they had musical parents, and they all started performing as young children.
“My dad always played guitar, I was always really inspired by him,” said Finnegan. “He would allow me to join him in the songwriting process. I started playing small shows when I was nine years old.”
“I’ve been playing my whole life,” said Mundy. “I started playing the piano when I was really little. I always playing the organ we had in our house. My dad’s an incredible guitar player, my mom is a singer. I started singing as I got older, and I was performing at coffeehouses in high school.”
Shea credits her father with her interest in the guitar, but not because he made her play it.
“He had a gentle hand in it,” she said. “My dad is a huge music lover with a huge collections of CDs and guitars. My whole family is very musical. Family gatherings were just big jams.”
Abby Stewart also got her start quite young. In fact, at only 18 she’s the youngest of the six finalists and has some pretty big gigs on her resume already.
“I got started in music really young, I just always loved to sing,” said Stewart. “I started performing in school talent shows when I was six and I just kept doing those year after year. I started getting gig offers and taking singing lessons. I was entering different competitions around town and across Canada. I was picked up as one of eight emerging artists for a Boots and Hearts showcase in 2013. It’s been crazy since then, playing The Havelock Jamboree and Limestone City Blues Festival and other festivals.”
With the showcase and the most public part of the competition nearing completion, Holmberg and Bouvier are considering their options for doing it again, but it’s not planned to be an annual event as of yet.
“It’s been a learning curve doing this for the first time,” said Holmberg. “The amount of behind the scenes work is immense, but it’s extremely enjoyable and really rewarding so we want to do it again.”
“The biggest thing is that these six are our focus for the next year,” said Bouvier. “And then we’ll get some feedback from them to see how we can improve for the next time.”
The YGK Emerging Musician Competition Showcase Concert is Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 at The Isabel. Ticket prices range from $12-$25 and are available through The Isabel’s website.